Manifa Elephant Camp, located on a natural landscape outside of Luang Prabang, is an ideal excursion from Luang Prabang for all lovers of elephants, nature, and Lao culture. Whether you are coming for riding, interacting, or just observing, we are committed to ensuring that your experience does not cause the elephant to suffer and providing welfare-oriented quality experiences, stimulating and nurturing a love of and curiosity for the elephant as well as fascinating glimpse of Lao culture in harmony with nature.
We started in 2009 with two elephants by local elephant enthusiast Vilaluck Vothivong. After 14 years and the support of travelers, Manifa Elephant Camp is now a herd of 17 elephants in over 100 hectares of forests where we can provide them with beautiful natural habitats and vegetation.
If you would like to join the tour and meet the elephants, please book online or visit the Manifa Travel Office in Luang Prabang. We are looking forward to seeing you.
We drive and develop the way unique to Laos that people can live in harmony with elephants like the ancient narratives of Buddhism in the modern world, and to allow visitors to experience Laos’ unique non-anthropocentric view of nature and animals.
Packages for families with children. Two adults and two children share two elephants to keep the price low.
The followings are some expert works and studies that offer interesting alternative perspectives on elephant tourism and captive elephant conservation.
In Luang Prabang, specific efforts to make the elephant camps a responsible tourist destination began in 2018 through the initiative of the EU government and the German government’s GIZ. Many experts have participated in supporting Laos elephants. Dr. Andrew McLean of the H-ELP Foundation visited Luang Prabang to train elephant mahouts in behavioral science-based elephant-friendly management. Guidelines and FAQs for elephant tourism aimed at tour operators were made and shared through PATA and Travelife, and the elephant camp audit.
Because of these projects in Luang Prabang, even a Lao only elephant camp like ours can operate in accordance with elephant welfare standards.
For a better understanding, we recommend our visitors to read the Elephant FAQs created by one of these public projects. These are a detailed explanation of the issues raised about elephant tourism. It is a concise and systematic explanation of everything from the proper tourist’s commitment to the problem of captive elephants in Laos.
A common question from Western travelers and tour operators is; Why don’t you stop offering elephant riding? We answer that our elephants benefit from tourist elephant rides. Our elephants do not suffer from tourist elephant rides. Of course, not all elephant riding is unconditionally good. It is essential to have a good relationship between the elephants and the elephant handlers, a rich natural environment, and proper management. We strive to commit to offering good elephant rides.
Below, we provide the evidence for our answer from 3 recent academic studies introduced in a blog by Dr. Ingrid, who has worked on the welfare of tourism elephants for many years.
Riding elephants is one of the most controversial activities in the tourist industry, with concerns over whether load carrying is physically harmful. Here, we used an empirical approach to test how carrying loads up to 15% of the elephant’s body mass affected gait parameters. The maximal angles of fore- and hindlimb joints of elephants walking at a normal, self-selected speed carrying a mahout only were first evaluated and then compared to those walking with a saddle carrying two people plus added weight to reach a 15% body mass load. Data were analyzed using a computerized three-dimensional inertial measurement system. There were no significant differences between movement angles, including flexion, extension, abduction, and adduction of the fore- or hindlimbs between these two riding conditions. Thus, we found no evidence that carrying two people in a saddle causes significant changes in gait patterns or potentially affects musculoskeletal function. More studies are needed to further test longer durations of riding on different types of terrain to develop appropriate working guidelines for captive elephants. Nevertheless, elephants appear capable of carrying significant amounts of weight on the back without showing signs of physical distress.
Human–animal interactions are an important focus of modern animal welfare research. A subset of this interest includes animal–visitor interactions that occur in zoos. One understudied aspect of animal–visitor interactions involves public feedings, where visitors can directly feed the zoo animals. We examined the effects of public feedings compared with nonpublic feed days on the general activity of three zoo-housed elephants. In addition, we examined the general activity of the elephants in the months prior to public feedings, as well as their general activity on public feed days before, during, and after a public feeding. Public feedings were effective at increasing social activity and decreasing stereotypies for two of the elephants when compared with nonpublic feed days. Additionally, all three elephants showed increased foraging and decreased inactivity following a public feeding. Our results suggest that public feedings can be an effective form of environmental enrichment for zoo-housed elephants.
Researchers from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Unit, Chiang Mai University, and National Elephant Institute Thailand looked at the stress indicator level in 84 healthy elephants from 15 tourist elephant camps in Thailand over 1-year.
The result shows that the elephants interacting with mahouts and performing daily exercise through riding had lower stress levels than elephants in passive observation-only camps.
The elephants in the study that undertook to ride had better body score conditions and were less likely to be obese than elephants that did not undertake riding activities.
The elephants engaged in riding received both physical and mental stimulation, positive welfare attributes that the elephants at the passive viewing camp did not receive.
On the other hand, the elephants in the observation-only camps were to have the highest stress levels, the least amount of exercise, and be quite obese, a factor associated with poor health outcomes.
Results suggest that more naturalistic housing conditions and providing opportunities to exercise may be good for elephants under human care in Thailand and that a no-riding, no hook policy does not necessarily guarantee good welfare.
It is common sense to all involved in elephant tourism that elephants do not suffer as long as elephant rides and interactions by tourists are done properly. No one, not even camp managers who loudly advertise “No riding” really believe that “elephant riding cause suffering to the elephants”. The only reason they insist on “No riding” is to avoid complaints from animal rights NGOs and their supporters who campaign against elephant tourism. In a blog introducing these studies, Dr. Ingrid said:
“There is a total fear of standing up to the multi-million-dollar animal rights activist industry and their dedicated brood of online trolls. Western travel groups are so frightened of being called animal abusers that it’s now easier to quietly bow down and let the activists override all science. Virtue signalling has also become a popular practice. “Stop elephant abuse” is a much catchier slogan than “We support evidence-based Asian elephant management on a case-by-case basis”. Southeast Asian tourism authorities are too afraid to even place an image of an elephant in their marketing, knowing that trolls in the UK, US and Australia will howl with outrage at the mere thought of elephant abuse. The demands of the animal rights activists are being treated as gospel while the scientists and elephant expert voices are drowned out. Sadly, none of this is improving elephant welfare.”
The size of forests in South East Asia, which is the natural habitat of elephants, has dramatically decreased during the past fifty years leaving little space for the wild elephants and increasing the frequency of elephant/human conflict with casualties in both camps.
An estimate by the World Wildlife Fund concluded that between 1973 and 2009, Thailand’s forests declined by 43 percent¹. In Laos, the total forest area reportedly declined from approximately 70% of the total area in the 1940s to 40.3% of the total area in 2010.
If the goal is to repopulate wild areas, then currently rewilding is an expensive, prolonged task that benefits only a small handful of elephants, and it’s ethically questionable.
If the goal of rewilding is to improve welfare conditions, to respect the intrinsic “rights” of captive elephants, and to genuinely include mahouts in the conservation discourse, then there are more cost-effective, efficient and replicable methods available.
The ideals behind compassionate conservation fail to acknowledge the complexities of real-world issues.
A French anthropologist who has studied numerous field on the relationship between Asian elephants and indigenous people criticized the elitism of the elephant conservation (“the elephantcentric vision” in the article) at an elephant camp in Sayaburi Province. The Western campaign to save elephants has not only excluded anthropocentric tourism, but also elephants from local villages. This results in their elephant conservation without locals. He looks toward a biocultural approach of conservation, arguing the life of humans, elephants, plants, and the entire living beings present within their shared and co-constructed landscapes.
Becoming a village elephant (sang ban), the animal maintains contact with its primary environment: it is a “domestic being” that is released every day in the forest (in the evening, after working time), or seasonally, for example during the monsoon season. They keep constant contacts with forest congeners (wild elephants), continue to have direct access to forest, and are able to cure themselves by self-medication.
By leaving a male or a female elephant free to wander in the forest, it is hoped that he will find to mate with one of his congeners, who will give birth to a new individual. Later, by the capture of a young individuals and its integration into the village community, local populations create domestic elephant with wild one. And so on, in a perpetual movement of regeneration and maintenance of the species.
Regarding animal welfare, the various attentions given by the local population provide them respect, protection, and well-being under a sophisticated health systems including ritual medicine, plant medicine. Actually, in the villages, in many ways, what French sociologist Jocelyne Porcher (Porcher and Schmitt 2010) called “good life offered to animal” can be found in regard to elephants.
As members of the village community, they accompany human activities and participate directly in what makes society. Throughout the year, they have access to a variety of natural environments (mountainous when they draw wood during the dry season, in the plain, near rice fields, during the rainy season). These animals have access to a rich diversity of plants to feed and care for themselves. And it is often forgotten, but their seasonal movement also contributes to the regeneration of the forest by spreading seeds and plants in each of the environments they pass through. Keeping the presence of elephants in villages along with local populations contributes directly to the conservation of biodiversity.
Elephant training is one of the most contentious topics when it comes to the pros and cons of elephant tourism. Some older videos, available online, show the use of torture to train young elephants. Such practices are not common and are strictly unacceptable. The following is a quote from an anthropologist’s article describing elephant training among the Karen people in Thailand today. The almost same is true for elephant training in Laos.
Baby elephants are left in the care of their mother for at least the first three years of their life. They follow their mother everywhere, often in close bodily contact, as they begin to supplement milk with forage and slowly learn the ways of their world. Karen people take care not to hinder this process of natural rearing; their interactions with baby elephants in these first years are restricted to playful exchanges and expressing affection physically, verbally and through the gift of treats like bananas and sugarcane. When elephants are between 3–5 years old, they begin to develop greater independence; in free-roaming populations, young males will eventually leave the maternal herd entirely. It is at this point that the process of elephant training occurs.
Elephant training is perhaps the most contentious issue between traditional elephant peoples and outsiders such as international tourists who have limited knowledge about elephant traditions. Numerous allegations of cruelty and abuse during elephant training have been levelled at elephantkeeping cultures, particularly by animal-rights groups like PETA (Laohachaiboon 2010). Alternately, others claim that these charges are inflated, inaccurate, or sometimes even falsified. Undoubtedly, there are many different techniques for training young elephants, ranging from unnecessarily cruel to painstakingly gentle. Here I discuss contemporary Karen elephant training methods in the communities where we worked, while acknowledging that it is difficult to obtain detailed information about this issue from many knowledge holders. The heated international debate around elephant training has made many mahouts fearful of allegations of cruelty and thus wary of sharing information freely.
Among the Karen, elephant training is the most critical period in the entire life of the elephant, as it will define the relationship between that individual and its human caretakers. As such, 12 it is undertaken with extreme care. Only a few individuals with a specific spiritual capacity are considered authorized to initiate the training process, and this capacity is often inherited along family lines (Schliesinger 2010; Lainé 2017a). In one village there was only a single community member with this capacity, and although he no longer dwelled in his natal village, he would travel back to perform the necessary rituals when any of the community’s elephants were ready to be trained.
The basic process involves separating the baby elephant from its mother. To facilitate this, a wooden corral is constructed in the forest. The person overseeing the process constructs a small altar beside the corral and makes offerings and prayers to the elephant’s guardian spirits, the local landscape spirits and the ancestor spirits of those involved to assist the training process. Then the young elephant is placed in the corral and the mother is led away.
In the absence of their mother, the young elephant is now able to begin forming emotional bonds with the humans who will care for them throughout their life. This is a difficult process, fraught with stress and anxiety for both the elephant and the humans. It may be several days before the young elephant develops enough trust to accept food from human hands. During this period the mahouts and the elephant trainer stay close to the elephant continuously, to familiarize the elephant with them and allow trust to begin to grow. In Lainé’s (2016) analysis of the training ritual among the Khamti, he found that they use chants and songs during this process, such as “Stop! Leave your jungle heart and adopt man heart. Learn the words from man, listen to them.”
Indeed, learning to respond to the human voice is critical to the training process. Once the elephants allow themselves to be fed and begin to trust their human caretakers, they are released from the corral and taught the basic elephant commands, such as ‘stop’, ‘go’, ‘sit’, ‘stand’, ‘left’, ‘right’, etc. The young elephant is slowly integrated back into the rest of the human-elephant community after having undergone this difficult rite of passage (Locke 2016) and begun the forging of an emotional bond with the mahouts who have trained them.